Changes to ID-4 to be decided by voters

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Town Clerk Ann Webster has received and certified two petitions aimed at moving up the date of the ID-4 school district annual meeting and changing the method by which the Mary Hogan Elementary School budget is voted.

Both petitions needed to bear the signatures of at least 235 registered voters.

The petition reading “Shall the Incorporated District No. 4 hold its annual meeting within 10 days prior of Town Meeting Day?” was submitted with 317 signatures, according to Webster. The petition requesting that the Mary Hogan Elementary School budget be voted on Town Meeting Day by Australian ballot garnered 311 signatures, Webster said. Both petitions have been forwarded to the ID-4 clerk for placement on the district’s April 8 annual meeting warning.

Nancy Malcolm, one of the petitioners, reported on Tuesday that additional signatures were forwarded to the clerk to bring the number to 342 to move the date of the annual meeting, and to 349 to switch to Australian ballot voting.

Both petitioned articles will be decided by voice vote (barring a paper ballot request) from the floor at the April 8 meeting.

ID-4 school board members on Feb. 9 acknowledged the petitions and their possible implications, but took a pass on placing the two articles on the April 8 meeting on their own accord. Board members decided, after conducting research, that there was no compelling reason to change the meeting date and convert to Australian ballot voting. Advocates for maintaining the status quo have said that the current practice of having a voice vote on the Mary Hogan Elementary budget allows for discussion and possible amendment of the spending plan from the floor. They have also stated that the April meeting gives more time for state aid information to trickle down from the Vermont Legislature and Department of Education.

Supporters of the petitions have argued that Australian ballots would allow a greater number of people to weigh in on the Mary Hogan budget, which this year proposes spending of around $6.7 million. Recent ID-4 annual meetings have drawn only a few dozen people. Petition advocates also believe that it makes more sense for the Mary Hogan budget to be decided at the same time as most other school budgets throughout the state — Town Meeting Day.

Malcolm on Monday said she’s pleased with the number of signatures that she and fellow supporters were able to garner. She added most people were pleased to sign the petitions, with some saying they were under the impression that all schools voted their school budgets by Australian ballot on Town Meeting Day.

“It was not a hard sell,” she said. “It’s the democratic way. It’s about participation, not education.”

She’s hoping for a good turnout at the April 8 meeting.

“When the true facts are explained and put out there, then more people will understand and will, hopefully, make that extra effort to come out on April 8 to have a say in how and when we vote,” Malcolm said.

“Our school boards have a lot of responsibility to focus on student achievement for all children and to allocate the resources for the needs,” she added. “They are charged with watching our return on investment and assess data to understand the results. They also must engage the community they serve and view them as a shared partnership. The school board works hard. We appreciate that they are accountable for delivering the best education that we can afford. Mary Hogan does a great job. We just want a vote.”

Billy Connelly, leader of the ID-4 board’s policy and communications committee, said he looks forward to an exchange of different points of view at the April 8 meeting. He said his committee did ample research on the petitioned requests prior to forwarding its report to the full ID-4 board.

“We considered the issues,” he said. “We spoke with people in our community. We conducted research. We had attorneys conduct research. We discussed how to present our findings to the ID-4 board and our community.

“We are continuing the work we began in May 2014 when our board agreed on goals for 2014-15, and we look forward to ongoing dialogue with our community that will help us move forward in the best interest of our students, families, and our town,” he added. “Our board is thoughtful and considerate. We do our homework. Collectively we work through issues that affect our school, kids, and community.”

As for the upcoming votes on April 8, he called them “Democracy in action.”

“We love to see people get involved in ways that will mean we continue to have healthy community engagement and continue to have a strong school,” he said.

Reporter John Flowers is at [email protected].

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Middlebury, VT 05753

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